How To Explain Anxiety To A New Partner
While anxiety is definitely very common and most of us know at least a few people who suffer from it, trying to explain anxiety to new a partner who's never experienced it, can be difficult.
Anxiety disorders account for the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting some 40 million people, 18 years of age and older, says research by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. The World Health Organization found that between 1990 and 2013, the number of people suffering from anxiety and/or depression (they often accompany each other), increased from 416 million to 615 million worldwide, meaning roughly 10 percent of the world population is affected by some form of an anxiety disorder. Basically, if you suffer from anxiety, you're absolutely not alone — not by a long-shot.
I remember the first time I tried to explain my anxiety to a guy I dated my freshman year in college, way back when I truly felt I was alone in my struggle, and he accused me of having anxiety for attention. Interestingly, years later after we broke up, he emailed to tell me he'd been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and how horrible he felt for having said what he said that day. He finally understood what I was trying to tell him that day.
But since not everyone has anxiety and there are still many people who are in the dark about it, here are seven ways to explain to your partner that you have anxiety.
1. Write It All Down In A Letter
Personally, while I can openly talk about my depression without feeling depressed, when I try to talk about my anxiety, I can't help but feel a bit anxious. For me, explaining my depression is easier than explaining my anxiety, because I feel my depression is more warranted than, say, all of a sudden having an anxiety attack out of the blue. But I also know that it's a mental illness, so I don't have as much control as I would like, meaning when the attack comes, I don't really have a say in the matter. Because talking about my anxiety can induce my anxiety, putting it on paper is a better option for me — that is, if I choose to discuss it at all.
"Sometimes talking about anxiety can also produce anxiety," Behavioral Scientist, Clarissa Silva, tells Bustle. "In those cases, I would suggest writing a letter to your partner. If you can manage to discuss your symptoms and triggers, having a face-to-face discussion will help you both create a coping method together."
2. Describe Your Emotions And Precarious Scenarios
Although it was thrown in my face when I was 18 years old by that ex-boyfriend, who would eventually ending up putting his foot in his mouth, I did my best to put into words the sensations of having anxiety. It's one thing to tell someone you have anxiety, but as any creative writing teacher will instruct you, the best way to communicate a scenario is to show the experience, not tell.
"For those who don’t have anxiety, it is best to describe the physical and emotional symptoms you feel," suggests Silva. "Describe in detail the scenarios that create physical symptoms, the conditions that they are created in and the reactions it produces."
3. Explain To Them What Helps And What Doesn't
In most cases, your partner will want to know how they can help. But helping someone with anxiety or even depression can sometimes be like walking on egg shells. It's like that reaction people often have when they're crying and being hugged, even by someone they love, causes them to cry more. It's all about treading very lightly.
"Your partner will instinctively feel the need to help," says Silva. "Talk about what your partner should or should not do."
4. Make Them Understand What Words Can Be Triggering
It's so easy for someone who doesn't have anxiety to dismiss your anxiety. Not only can this dismissal, in itself, be triggering, but so can the words your partner uses in the process.
"Familiarize your partner with all of your trigger words, statements, and situations," says Silva. "Sometimes people don’t understand that statements like 'well, just don't think about it' or 'just relax' actually create anxiety."
5. Come Up With A List Of Ways They Can Support You
In working together to come up with ways to cope and handle your anxiety, you'll feel more like a team, than you, the wounded bird, and your partner, the savior. It's important to see your anxiety as something you're both willing to deal with and manage together.
"Create a list of things they can do to help you cope as a strategy so they can feel they are taking part in supporting you," says Silva. "That could be reminders about self-care, avoidance of triggers, or techniques that reduces anxiety."
6. Help Them Understand Anxiety-Provoked Emotions
Sometimes you can have an emotional response to something your anxiety brought on, while other times you can have an emotion because your partner is frustrating you. Help them realize there's a difference in these emotions.
"[Your partner] needs to be able to understand the difference between an anxiety-provoked emotion, from an emotion that they produced," says Silva. "Have them understand that anxiety induced emotion is still valid."
7. Figure Out How To Cope When It's Not About Them – And When It Is
Although one would hope, after detailing so much about your anxiety to your partner, they would be able to see that your anxiety and its affects are separate from them, some people don't always get it and may think your anxiety is you being mad at them, so figure out how you'll cope when it's not about them — and when it is.
"They might think they did something wrong when it was actually your anxiety," says Silva. "Or they might think it was your anxiety rather than something they did. Discuss either scenario with your partner in order to cope together."
While there's no denying that anxiety can affect your love life, if you're upfront about it with your partner, you can prepare them for possible scenarios. Anxiety is nothing to be ashamed about it and preparing your partner so you're both on the same page about it will help you handle it like pros.